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Oil Analysis: What Are Your Expectations? Our Journey to Discovery

Many contract companies have difficulty grasping and achieving a cost saving oil analysis program because they fail to use their oil analysis program to the full potential possible. It was one such company that had plenty of opportunities where Harold Gudmundsen, General Manager of Asset Management for North American Construction Group, found himself in a senior position with many capable staff like myself.

There were plenty of opportunities that could have been used to reduce the maintenance yearly spend, however it was the oil analysis program that Harold knew could instantly start showing results. It was with determination that Harold wanted to show the executive team that oil analysis was a worthwhile opportunity. As Harold and I would find out, the largest roadblock to improving this system would be the actual people responsible for its success. Originally, I would own, implement and manage the program and be responsible for calculating its successes and losses, but later shared these responsibilities with other team members.

To begin with, we found that the industry in Alberta, Canada, had become accustomed to oil analysis, where the responsibilities of the sampling labs were simply to do the scientific testing of the oils, perform a quick view of the results and give a simple reply to the results as seen in Figure 1. The in-depth analysis of the results was left to the companies themselves. Second, I found there was little emphasis internally on oil analysis unless there was a failure, at which time it was too late.

fig 1

Figure 1

As I began implementing new processes, I was met with utter restraint, sometimes even coming from the site maintenance superintendents. I eventually found out that the flagged samples were not even being sent to the proper on-site individuals. When that was corrected, often times there were not enough individuals in the planning department to handle the volume of flags being received. Sometimes, the oil analysis results were not even looked at before the delete button was pressed on the computer, eliminating the email in which they were contained. Of course I shuttered at the thought whenever I heard or saw this occurring. With the assistance of our oil analysis account representative, I implemented a new and simple process that has saved enormous time for the service personnel. But the introduction of electronic sample setup with labels preprinted for the samples was actually met with disgust and restraint. It was at this time that Harold, as the general manager, decided his intervention was mandatory, which I gladly appreciated.

The solution was simple, though the success of it was greatly slowed due to resistance within. We requested that the sampling lab take on greater responsibility for the overall interpretation of the oil analysis results, which increased the level of service they could now offer. They would then send the information to the site specific personnel and hold them accountable for any actions taken or not taken, as seen in Figure 2.

fig 2

Figure 2

It was to be a partnership more than the vendor type relationship the two companies had previous to the project, paving the way for a higher level of expectations. A timeline was given and it was reiterated that if financial benefits were not achieved during that time, the services of the oil analysis lab would no longer be required.

Now Harold could have easily directed the method in which to accomplish the task, however in doing so, he would have taken away from his employees the greatest opportunity for them, which is the opportunity to grow. The only way there was going to be success was for the employees to rise to a higher level of both understanding and competency. The oil analysis lab also needed to rise up to a higher level of expectations and service offerings.

When the mandate was given, I truly didn't know what was going to happen. I was given the authority to enact the changes that had long been sought, but with great resistance the program was greatly scaled back so as not to further inconvenience the already overburdened maintenance planning group. Only a distinct number of warnings would be issued despite the number of flags that actually existed. This made the planning group a little less hostile, however it still was not able to produce great results. Having already trained them in oil analysis, their little experience caused them to make the wrong decisions and actions to the flagged samples. Components failed because the decision to resample was the decision carried out instead of inspecting for the contaminants or wear metals.

With the deadline looming, Harold again reiterated to me that if no financial benefits were recorded, the services of the analysis lab would be cancelled. I no longer had the option to guard the maintenance planning group. I informed the vendor to start analyzing all severe flags and sending warnings for these items regardless of whether the maintenance planners were able to deal with all of the added work load. Despite the mountains we would have to climb, we would be victorious.

All of these actions upset the internal balance within the maintenance division and I found I was not a very popular person at times. Some employees were often uncertain as to why such drastic measures were being taken, but they didn't fully understand what really was at stake. Initially, the oil analysis lab also didn't understand why they had to provide the higher service offerings since the expectations were outside the usual services provided by an oil analysis lab. How could it be? Is the only responsibility of an oil analysis lab to analyze oil and provide the data back to the customer? For oil analysis, what service is actually being provided, data or information? Again, the previous expectations were that they would analyze the oil samples, deliver the data and provide some training; that was the end of the expected service offerings. A higher level of expectation was given to everyone, both for our company and for the oil analysis vendor. Risk was expected to be shared equally and not solely on one party, as both parties equally had something to lose.

The goal was achieved, higher standards have been set and more progress is being made every day. The process that was developed allowed for internal review of other processes, which allowed for further improvement. The vendor was also able to further improve its service offerings. Since the beginning of the process, I have been able to calculate cost avoidances over $2.7 million with missed opportunities equal to the same amount. These cost savings were calculated over and above the cost of the program, as well as the cost of the extra services being provided by the oil analysis lab.

While many lessons were learned, I would have to say that the two biggest were: 1) Even though people are your greatest asset, if they are not properly trained, held accountable and managed properly, they also can be your largest roadblock to success; and 2) As you set higher expectations for your maintenance divisions and vendors, only with these higher expectations can you begin on the path for continuous improvement.

authorRichard Woolley is a Maintenance Engineer at North American Construction Group (NACG). He has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering Cooperative Program degree. Before joining NACG, he gained experience as an engineer and production supervisor in the food industry.

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